From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Jump to navigation Jump to search

Populated statesTamil Nadu
Related groupsSenaithalaivar[1]

Sengunthar ([sɛŋkʊnʈɻ]), also known as the Kaikolar and Sengunthar Mudaliyar, is a Tamil caste commonly found in the Indian state of Tamil Nadu and also in some other parts of South India. They are traditionally a weaving community. They are sub divided into numerous clans based on a patrilineal system called Koottam or Kulam, which is similar to gotras.


The ancient occupational name of Kaikkolar comes from the words kai (hand) and kol (a shuttle used in looms). The appended -ar means people.[2] Kaikkolar also means men with stronger arms.[3][4][full citation needed]

Sengunthar means red spear people, which the community believes connects them to the god Murugan, who is known as a red god. They believe that the original nine Kaikolars, called Navaveerargal, served in an army fighting on behalf of Murugan and that they descend from these nine people.[2]

In ancient times they were also called as Kaarugar (weaver), Thanthuvayar (weaver), Sengunthar padaiyar (soldiers), Senaithalaivar (army commander), Kaikolar (Weaver). [5]

Mudaliar was traditionally used by higher-ranking non-Brahmin castes but various less prestigious communities have come to use it as a means of expressing their desire for upward social mobility. Mudali means first, suggesting that the title bearer is of the first-ranked among people.[6][7] They also use the title Nayanar after their names.[8]


Myth of origin[edit]

Shiva was enraged against the giants who harassed the people of the earth and sent forth six sparks of fire from his eyes. His wife, Parvati, was frightened, and retired to her chamber and in so doing, dropped nine beads from her anklets. Siva converted the beads into as many females, to each of whom was born a hero. These nine heroes (Navaveerargal), namely Virabahu,[9] Virakesari, Viramahendrar, Viramaheshwar, Virapurandharar, Viraraakkathar, Viramaarthandar, Viraraanthakar and Veerathirar with Subrahmanya at their head, marched in command of a large force, and destroyed the demons. Sengunthar claim to be the descendants of these warriors. After killing the demon, the warriors were told by Siva that they adopt a profession, which would not involve the destruction or injury of any living creature and weaving being such a profession, they were trained in it. Chithira valli, daughter of Virabahu, one of the above commanders was married to King Musukuntha Cholan . The descendants of Navaveerargal and Musukunthan were claimed as first generation of Sengunthars.[10][11]


Chola period[edit]

The earliest literary evidence about Sengunthar occurs in Adhi Diwakaram, a Tamil lexicon written by Sendan Diwakarar. This dictionary, probably from the 8th century CE, is thought to refer to them as weavers and army commanders, which may be indicative of their dual role in society at that time.[12]

Inscriptions from the 11th century suggest that by the time of the Chola dynasty, the Sengunthar had already developed its involvement in weaving and trading, together with a role in military matters that was probably necessary to protect those interests. They were a part of the Ayyavole 500 trading group during the Chola period and there are also references in the 12th century that suggest they had armies and that some specific people were assigned to act as bodyguards for the Chola emperors. Such historical records emphasise their military function, with the poet Ottakoothar glorifying them and suggesting that their origins lay with the armies of the gods.[13]

They were militarized during the medieval Chola period, when some of them held the title Brahmadaraya or Brahmamarayan, which was usually reserved for high-ranking Brahmin officials in the Chola government.[14][full citation needed]

Some were chieftains and commanders-in-chief of the later Cholas. Kaikkolar commanders-in-chief were known as Samanta Senapathigal[15][page needed] or Senaithalaivar.[16][page needed][15][page needed]

According to Vijaya Ramaswamy, in early thirteenth century large number of Kaikolars were migrated to Kongu Nadu from Tondaimandalam.[17]

Vijayanagara period[edit]

After the 13th century, Sengunthars became associated with weaving completely.[18][19][20] According to Deepak Kumar, the Sengunthar weavers very often figure in the capacity of kudi, i.e. tenant-cultivators and also holders of kaniyachi, that is hereditary possession over the land.[21] During the period of Sadasiva Raya of Vijayanagara empire, the sthanathar of the Brahmapuriswara temple made an agreement that they would cultivate certain lands of the Kaikkolar regiment.[18][21]

According to Himanshu Prabha Ray, in 1418 in Tiruvannamalai temple, Sengunthars were given the right to blow the conch, ride palanquins and elephants and wave the temple fly whisk.[22] In 16th century some of the Kaikolars were migrated to Kerala region from Tamil region.[17]

Traditions and festivals[edit]

Sengunthar Shaivite priests are vegetarian, wear the sacred thread, and shave their foreheads in the Brahmanic fashion. Both alcoholic and sexual abstinence are valued, as is control of the passions. But when they are concerned with the sacred locus of the interior, meat eating, blood sacrifice, spirit possession, and the worship of small gods are all prominent. Sengunthars thus follow both a priestly model and a Dravidian tradition.[23]The Kaikola Teesikar or Desigar who were non Brahmin priest at temples of Murugan. Sengunthar community practices both the vegetarian and non vegetarian traditions.[24]

Each family (kulam) of the Sengunthar had their own Kula Deivam (deity). Sengunthars share Murugan as a common deity and additionally have any one of several other deities, such as Angalamman or Ambayamman.[25]

The Sura Samharam festival is a traditional ritual where the Sengunthars dress as the lieutenants of Karthikeya and re-enact the killing of the demon Suran.[26]

Kandaswamy Kovil, Nallur, Sri Lanka

In the flag hoisting ceremony at Sri Lanka Nallur Kandaswamy temple, the Sengunthar families who were military heroes in old Jaffna Kingdom have rights to bring out the temple flag and carry the flag as the ceremony of Sura Samharam battle.The houses of Sengunthars are beautifully decorated curtains with the picture of rooster, the legendary vehicle of Lord Muruga hang in their houses, in the day of the flag ceremony.[27][28]

Nadu system[edit]

Historically there were 4 thisai nadus, which in turn was divided into 17 kilai nadus, exclusive of thisai nadus, totally making 72 nadus in the Sengunthar. The thisai nadus were Sivapuram (Walajabad) to the east, Thonthipuram to the south, Virinjipuram to the west, Chozhasingapuram (Sholinghur) to the north. [29]

The head of 72 nadu was Kancheepuram nadu which was called as Mahanadu by the Sengunthars.[30]The head officer of Mahanadu were called as Aandavar and Aandavar is highest authority leader for Sengunthars.[31] The head officer of the each nadu council were called as Naattaanmaikarar or Periyadhanakarar or Pattakarar.[32]


There are some divisions among Kaikolar based on their traditions.

Chinna Thaali Kaikolar[edit]

Cinn taali Kaikolar, also known as Saami katti Kaikolars, are characterized by a lingam tied to their arm, a custom now defunct.[33] Women of this section worn small size of the Thali or Mangala sutra . This section allow widows to wear colored saris as other women.[34] They are mainly found in the Eeruurunaadu [35]( Salem and Namakkal districts ).

Periya Thaali Kaikolar[edit]

Periya taali Kaikolar, also known as Kongu Kaikolar and Vellai kaikkoolar. Women of this section wore big size of the Thali. Widows belonging this section wore white or saffron saris and they were mainly found in the Erode side of the Bhavani River.[34]

Rattukaara Kaikolar[edit]

Rattukaarar, also known as Rendukaarar because they weave with warps composed of double threads and they are traditional carpet makers. They are mainly found in West region of Tamil Nadu.[34]

Thalaikooda Mudaliyar[edit]

They are called Thalaikooda Mudaliyar( meaning "head refusers"), because it is said that in 12th century they refused to sacrifice the heads of their first sons to the caste poet, Ottakoothar to compose poem so they were outcast in that time. Talaikooda Mudaliar are originally from Koorainaadu, in Tanjore district.[36] Now they are found in Pondicherry[37] region.

Sengunthars from 20th century[edit]

Sengunthars are classified and listed as a Backward Class by the governments of both Tamil Nadu and India.[38][39]

Literary references[edit]

  • Senguntha Prabanda Thiratu[40] is a collection of various literary works written about Kaikkolars. It was originally published by Vannakkalanjiyam Kanji Shri Naagalinga Munivar in 1926 and republished in 1993 by Sabapathi Mudaliar.[41][full citation needed] The collection contains:
  • Senkunthar Pillai Tamizh by Gnanaprakasa Swamigal, Tirisirapuram Kovintha Pillai and Lakkumanaswami. A collection of songs about the Sungunthars, taken from palm-leaf manuscripts, that was first published in the 18th century in Kanchipuram
  • Eetti Ezhubathu, the major literary work about the Sengunthars. It comprises poetry by Ottakkoothar written in the 12th century CE during the reign of Rajaraja Chola II. It describes the mythical origin of Sengunthar, expeditions of Sengunthar chieftains and also praises the 1008 Kaikolar who were beheaded trying to enable it to be written.[42]
  • Ezhupezhubathu, a sequel to Eetti Ezhubathu written by Ottakkoothar. In this work, he prays the goddess Saraswathi to reattach the heads of the 1008 Sengunthars to their respective bodies.
  • Kalipporubathu, a collection of ten stanzas compiled by Kulothunga Chola III. These stanzas were written after Ezhupezhubathu to express joy when the 1008 heads were reattached. These stanzas include the songs who witnessed it in the court of Raja Raja II including himself which was later compiled by his successor Kulothunga Chozha III
  • Thirukkai Vazhakkam, which describes the good deeds of Sengunthars and their Saivite religious principles. It was written by Puhalendi.
  • Sengunthar Silaakkiyar Malai was written by Kanchi Virabadhra Desigar. It describes the legends and eminent personalities of the Sengunthar community.

Notable people[edit]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Ramaswamy, Vijaya (1985). Textiles and weavers in medieval South India. Oxford University Press. Retrieved 4 December 2011.
  2. ^ a b Mines 1984, pp. 54–55
  3. ^ Sen, Sailendra Nath (1999). Ancient Indian History and Civilization. New Age International. p. 491. ISBN 978-8-12241-198-0.
  4. ^ Religion and Society in South India: a volume in honour of Prof. N. Subba Reddy, V. Sudarsen, G. Prakash Reddy, M. Suryanarayana.
  5. ^ Ramaswamy, Vijaya (1985). Textiles and weavers in medieval South India. Oxford University Press.
  6. ^ Barnett, Marguerite Ross (2015). The Politics of Cultural Nationalism in South India. Princeton University Press. p. 236. ISBN 978-1-40086-718-9.
  7. ^ Ramaswamy, Vijaya (2017). Historical Dictionary of the Tamils. Rowman & Littlefield. p. 229. ISBN 978-1-53810-686-0.
  8. ^ Vink, Markus (2005). Encounters on the Opposite Coast: The Dutch East India Company and the Nayaka State of Madurai in the Seventeenth Century. Brill. p. 218. ISBN 9789004272620.
  9. ^ Ramaswamy, Vijaya (2017). Historical Dictionary of the Tamils. Rowman & Littlefield. p. 231. ISBN 978-1-53810-686-0.
  10. ^ Mines 1984, pp. 54–55
  11. ^ Ghose, Rajeshwari (1996). The Tyāgarāja Cult in Tamilnāḍu: A Study in Conflict and Accommodation. Motilal Banarsidass. p. 78–82. ISBN 9788120813915.
  12. ^ Ramaswamy, Vijaya (1985). Textiles and Weavers in Medieval South India. Oxford University Press. p. 15.
  13. ^ Sinopoli, Carla M. (2003). The Political Economy of Craft Production: Crafting Empire in South India, c.1350–1650. Cambridge University Press. p. 188. ISBN 9781139440745.
  14. ^ S. Sankaranarayanan, S. S. Ramachandra Murthy, B. Rajendra Prasad, D. Kiran Kranth Choudary (2000). Śāṅkaram: recent researches on Indian culture : Professor Srinivasa Sankaranarayanan festchrift. Harman Pub. House. p. 114.CS1 maint: multiple names: authors list (link)
  15. ^ a b Manickam, V. (2001). Kongu Nadu, a history up to A.D. 1400. Makkal Veliyeedu.
  16. ^ Ramaswamy, Vijaya (1985). Textiles and weavers in medieval South India. Oxford University Press. Retrieved 4 December 2011.
  17. ^ a b Ramaswamy, Vijaya (2017). Migrations in Medieval and Early Colonial India. Routledge. p. 172–174. ISBN 9781351558259.
  18. ^ a b Ramaswamy, Vijaya (1985). Textiles and weavers in medieval South India. Oxford University Press.[page needed]
  19. ^ Mines 1984
  20. ^ de Neve, Geert (2005). The Everyday Politics of Labour: Working Lives in India's Informal Economy. Berghahn Books. ISBN 9788187358183.[page needed]
  21. ^ a b Science and Empire: Essays in Indian Context, 1700–1947 By Deepak Kumar[full citation needed]
  22. ^ Ray, Himanshu Prabha (2004). "Far-flung fabrics - Indian textiles in ancient maritime trade". In Barnes, Ruth (ed.). Textiles in Indian Ocean Societies. Routledge. p. 27. ISBN 978-1-13443-040-6.
  23. ^ Mines, Mattison (August 1982). "Models of Caste and the Left-Hand Division in South India". American Ethnologist. 9 (3): 467–484. doi:10.1525/ae.1982.9.3.02a00020. JSTOR 643998.
  24. ^ Mines 1984, pp. 15
  25. ^ Mines 1984, pp. 62-64
  26. ^ Ramaswamy, Vijaya (1982). "Weaver Folk Traditions as a Source of History". The Indian Economic & Social History Review. 19: 47–62. doi:10.1177/001946468201900103.
  27. ^ Dr. Kumar Vadivel. "Water cutting ceremony of the Nallur Kandasamy temple". The Island (Sri Lanka). Nallur, Sri Lanka: Ministry of Hindu Religious Affairs, Sri Lanka.
  28. ^ "Nallur Kandasamy Temple festival begins". TamilNet. Nallur, Sri Lanka.
  29. ^ Mines 1984, pp. 73-98
  30. ^ Mines 1984, pp. 171
  31. ^ Mines 1984, pp. 167
  32. ^ Mines 1984, pp. 171
  33. ^ Mines 1984, pp. 172
  34. ^ a b c Mines 1984, pp. 24-25
  35. ^ Mines 1984, pp. 169
  36. ^ Mines 1984, pp. 27
  37. ^ Mines, Mattison (August 1982). "Models of Caste and the Left-Hand Division in South India". American Ethnologist. 9 (3): 477. doi:10.1525/ae.1982.9.3.02a00020. JSTOR 643998.
  38. ^ "List of Backward Classes approved by Government of Tamil Nadu". Government of Tamil Nadu.
  39. ^ "Central list of backward classes". Government of India.
  40. ^ Senguntha Prabandha Thiratu. Retrieved 4 December 2011.
  41. ^ The Indian Economic and Social History Review-Delhi School of Economics. Vikas Publishing House. 1982.
  42. ^ Spuler, Bertold (1975). Tamil literature – Kamil Zvelebil. ISBN 978-9004041905. Retrieved 4 December 2011.


Further reading[edit]